Monday, November 21, 2005

On writing, working, and travelling...

Hello, all! For those of you who asked, the walls seem to have quieted down a bit. I gave them an offering of my Squirtle figurine. They/It haven't taken it yet, but it is understood that the walls have possession of my Burger King toy.

Anyway, I haven't written because i have been preparing an article for submission for publication, reading and commenting on rough drafts, working on my dissertation, and travelling to Boston for a conference. Fun fun fun!

It has actually been fun, but I am tired. Despite the drain on resources, I have discovered that, for the most part, I really get into the academic life. One example might be that in the sessions that I went to at NCA, I was one of the only people to ask probing questions in response to the panel.

This is impressive because there is a deep difference in the academy between "probing," "prosecuting," "plugging," and "praising." (Wow, what alliteration! It looks like the points of a wacked out sermon.) Anyway, most of the comments made in the last few minutes of a session usually fall under the latter three categories.

There is nothing wrong with these in their places. Sometimes it is important to laud a significant effort, necessary to advertise the work that you do, or take a presenter to task for a major error. However, there is also a great need in the academy, especially in the Christian members of the academy to engage one another critically.

This does not mean that we should be more cruel, but over the course of the conference, i found that the kind of communication that was interesting me at the moment was the ways in which academics talk to one another. Theoretically, NCA should be a gathering of the speech, media, rhetoric, and various comm studies profs from across the nation. Also theoretically, these profs, more than any others, should be able to communicate in the most effective ways possible, since their daily tasks revolve around the need to problematize and solve the methods of communication that surround us. This was certainly not the case. Despite the failings, some very bright spots remained.

The best example of scholars actually getting down to the business of discourse was in the workshop hosted by "The Calvin Workshops in Communication" which took place on Wednesday in the basement of the Boston Public Library.

I think that the key to these sorts of positive interactions comes in a fundamental shift in the consideration of ethical and effective communication. The important information in communication is not the answer, but the question. This might seem crazy to those not involved in these issues, but I see this as very important and potentially revolutionary, if enacted.

An answer presents a finite and finished piece of information. It approaches the listener as a dead end of sorts. It does not encourage further interaction except by "praise," "prosecution," or "plugs." One must either accept the answer, ignore it and present one's own, or attack some or all of it.

On the other hand, further questioning presents openings of a nearly infinite variety. This might seem very daunting and counterproductive to the pursuit of Truth, and in some ways it is. It does not contribute to forms of knowledge built on accumulation. It does not add. In math terms, the approach to a dialogic discourse multiplies meaning.

Many Christians, especially, are afraid to multiply meaning, and rightfully so on some levels. However, if we believe in an infinite God and a fallen/finite world, then we must at some level accept that there will be a large quantity (if not infinite number) of finite opinions on the infinite of the universe. I can tell that some of you have your eyes glazing over, but stick with me for a second.

In some ways it is like the old story of the three blind men and the elephant, only multiplied by the number of people who have lived and all engaging with the elephant who is truly infinite and unknowable in a total way in this present world. There will be clusters of people who have similar ideas of God and the Universe, and those clusters will probably think that they are right based on their ability to understand what they can connect to.

However, wouldn't it be more effective if cluster A approached the problem by asking cluster B by asking, "Well, I am pretty sure that I am dealing with a wall because X, Y, and Z, but what do you have over there and why?" This seems much more communal and full of potential than saying, "This is obviously a wall because I know I am right."

This is not just relativism because cluster A is not giving up their beliefs. Rather in a greater effort to understand that which they have contact with, they seek out others who also seek to understand their contact without the goal of "winning".

Just a couple thoughts. I will probably write more this week on the conference and the things that it led me to think about.

Friday, November 04, 2005

My office is haunted...

This has been a tough week. So I am going to go off on something completely frivolous and meaningless to maintain sanity. For those of you who want things to think about, check out the NPR interview with Jimmy Carter. I am very excited to check out his book, and I will probably get a post organized once i read it. It could make very good airplane reading.

I don't know if it is because my office is in the basement of an ill-treated building that is going on 100 or if it is because the walls keep making noises, but I think that my office is unhappy with something.

I used to have a nice, clean office that had a huge plate window and a new door that opened onto a friendly hallway full of people to gab with. Now, I switched teaching assignments and have been sent to the dungeon. There is probably a direct connection there, but that is another issue.

It is always fun to describe to students how to get to my office. "Well, you go to H Hall and go in a main door. Then you walk as far as you can, find the stairway that goes down, and go down until you can't descend any more. If you pass the place where the school stores dead furniture and keeps old mops, then you are on the right track. If you get to the boiler room, then you need to turn around.

I know that there is a sort of mystique surrounding being a grad student in which scholars and artists are expected to dwell in a tumbling garret, but frankly, I like the sun. I like heating and AC that works, and I would really like my walls to stop bulging like in "House on Haunted Hill".

Some might pass over the fact that my walls breath in and out rhythmically. I'm sure that some people would even like for inanimate objects to have spirits. I know my landlord refers to our house as a living thing, but it gets creepy after a while.

Creepier than the breathing itself is the fact that when my walls sleep, they occaisionally suffer from sleap apnea. They will go silent for a minute or two and then suddenly will burst into coughing snores.

Rather than fight the myterious nature of my living office, I've decided to embrace it. There are some problems. First, I don't have a name for the walls in question. Should I address them as a singular unit? Would that offend them if they actually thought of themselves as separate identities? After all, we really should never refer to American Indians as a total group. There is a significant difference between Seminoles and Sioux. On the other hand, if I name each wall separately, then the walls might think it rather comical, much as if your friends didn't talk to you but spoke to your limbs as each distinct beings. [Bob, could you pass me the salt? Oh, sorry. It is closer to Al. Al, if you don't mind passing the salt to Bob...]

More importantly though, I need to know if anyone has a Breathe-Right strip that is about 6 ft long? That would be great.